‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ Season 16, Episode 6 recap: Valley of the dolls

Three! Three! Three challenges in one!

Longtime readers of my Drag Race recaps will know that nothing delights me more than getting to talk about Project Runway. Though RuPaul’s series, which started as a parody of sorts of shows like Project Runway and America’s Next Top Model, has mostly morphed into its own format, there are still vestiges of its origins. Specifically, Ru’s walkthroughs in the werk room—though they’ve mostly become walk-to-Rus post-COVID—are akin to Tim Gunn’s own check-ins on the classic Bravo design series.

But once in a while, Drag Race will fully lean into a former Project Runway challenge for one of their design tasks—as we see this week with the doll challenge. Back in Project Runway’s second season (which aired in 2005, holy hell am I old), long before Greta Gerwig invited us into her version of Barbie’s world, Mattel invited the top 13 designers into the doll icon’s dream home. Their challenge once they arrived: design a garment that would be fit for Barbie’s My Scene collection. Then, in a twist, the designers were asked to create doll-sized versions of the clothes and put them on a Barbie to match.

The results were pretty mixed: Nick Verreos’ winning design was a stunner, while eliminated designer Raymundo Baltazar’s garment was infamously described by Michael Kors as “barefoot Appalachian Li’l Abner Barbie.” On the whole, outside of a couple top designers’ dolls, the garments made for the miniature versions were pretty lacklustre, too. But the idea of the challenge was a pretty genius one—which makes it all the more exciting that Drag Race has brought it back.

That’s right: inspired by RuPaul’s own doll, the queens get the chance to design new garments for themselves and a doll version of themselves. It’s another design challenge, so shortly after the last one, which is giving Season 3 in some ways (if we get another ball, I’ll giggle with glee). It also means that we’ve got another Battle of the Sewers on our hands, with Nymphia Wind once again a threat, Dawn looking to recover from not even placing in the top three in the ball and Q hungrier than ever for a victory after her appearance in the bottom two last week.

Sapphira Cristál makes the instantly-regretted decision to drink her immunity potion this week Credit: Courtesy MTV

Calling this a “design challenge” only is a bit misleading, though. As Ru explicitly states (love this), this is a branding, design and storytelling challenge all in one. In that way, it’s comparable to the princess challenge in Season 9 and the Backyard Ball in All Stars 5, in which a queen’s comedy skills and understanding of her own persona can do a lot of work in launching her into the top. But of course, the garment has to be good, and I would say that results across the board—save for those in the very top ranks—are pretty middling this week.

 

Of those not in the top three, it’s Nymphia who seemingly does the best. She tries to sell the other girls the idea that she is once again out of her depth, and the queens are decidedly not having it! “Nobody believes you, Nymphia!” Megami says. Q all but ignores her when she comes over. Plasma merely questions whether she can do anything but banana. The queen of mind games is running into resistance, and it’s all quite funny. As Morphine Love Dion puts it: “She is that little banana that cried wolf.”

Her eventual look (which is indeed banana-themed: the “Spring Banana Yellow Carpet Edition” of her doll) is nice, but she surprisingly doesn’t place in the top. I think her key issue is in the colouration of her doll’s garment compared to hers: her bow in the front is a pale pink and yellow, while the doll’s bow is pure yellow. It’s strange to see her miss a detail like this, but I understand her falling just outside of the top as a result.

Dawn, meanwhile, makes an effective case for the win. Guest judge Law Roach says her “Galactic Empress Edition” doll look, made of a shiny silver and deep purple pair of fabrics, looks ready for a Paris runway. I’m less high on it, personally, but I am also not a former stylist to the stars, so I will defer to Law. (Who, for some reason, Ru and the queens keep referring to as “LaRoach”? I’ve watched enough Legendary to know that is not how his name is pronounced!) Dawn also ditches the elf ears—a very smart play after Michelle Visage asked for versatility last week—and sets herself up for success moving forward. I continue to be impressed by her, both as a queen and as a competitor.

Dawn gets close to her first win this week, with an alien-style look that matched her doll beautifully Credit: Courtesy MTV

Joining Dawn in the top is Plane Jane, continuing her streak of solid performances. We see a lot more of Plane this week after Megami asks, “Plane, who are you gonna pick on now that Amanda’s gone?” Plane pledges to turn over a new leaf, which Dawn and Morphine are both skeptical about—but it does seem like she’s genuinely trying to take Sapphira Cristál’s advice from the last episode to heart. The one Plane-like thing she does in this episode is try to coerce Geneva Karr away from using a red fabric she wants, but Geneva summarily bounces her back: “Are you finally gonna put the tits away or you’re still gonna rely on that body?” When Plane tells her not to worry about what she’s doing, Geneva returns the favour, and sends her back to her station.

But we get another dimension to Plane here: her backstory. During an otherwise cute talk about playing with dolls as kids (Dawn was too embarrassed to go into the doll aisles, so her mom used to get them for her so she could pick one!), Plane shares something harrowing: her dad took away her dolls, and told her “only nasty, disgraceful faggots play with dolls.” It’s shocking, but Plane says she doesn’t blame her father, himself a Russian immigrant who couldn’t unpack his own biases. Plane attributes her parents’ tough Russian standards to why she’s so critical of others’ drag, saying in her confessional, “The Russians are very critical individuals … that’s part of who I am as well. At the end of the day, I do have these really deep-rooted insecurities that are really hard for me to shake.” While I’m not sure it justifies her behaviour, I do appreciate that we better understand her now.

Despite being stuck with the same light blue fabric that seemingly half the room decides to use (including Geneva, when her original idea doesn’t work), Plane does a great job on her “Aquatic Edition.” The stitching and construction of the garment is great, and she also has the kind of funny, self-referential narration that stands out in a challenge like this. She does well—but like Dawn, she’s not that close to the win.

That’s because Q positively blows everyone out of the water this week. Her copper “Fantasy Edition” features an ornate headpiece and gorgeous gown, and she emulates it perfectly on her doll. It’s remarkably detailed, both in the full-scale version and in the doll-sized one. I know Q felt robbed of a couple of wins up to this point—or at least, was anguished over repeatedly coming in second—but it all pays off here. This is a dynamite win, and a totally deserved one.

Law Roach brings his Legendary fierceness to the judging panel, meeting pre-season expectations for his appearance Credit: Courtesy MTV

Lots of queens fall in the vast middle—including Sapphira, who quite unwisely uses her immunity potion! She immediately regrets the choice, noting the judges are “gobsmacked,” and says in her confessional that she got in her own head about it. Xunami Muse, Megami, Morphine and Nymphia all join her in the Lush Lounge (a new Untucked lounge name I haven’t yet mentioned in this season’s recaps!), while our top three are joined by Plasma, Geneva and Mhi’ya Iman Le’Paige as the bottom three.

Plasma is ultimately called safe, though her simple dress and wonky scarf put a halt on her recent momentum in the competition. She’s saved from lip syncing thanks to Geneva’s rather contradictory “Daintiest Doll Texas Edition” look, which has entirely different proportions on herself versus her doll. (Granted, her figure is also different from her doll’s, but the solution to that was to add more volume to her look to better mimic it.) She is, like Plasma, working with the cursed blue fabric, and it’s almost a missed opportunity that they don’t have a Battle of the Blue Fabric in the lip sync.

But Mhi’ya has to end up there, particularly after her couple of close scrapes with lip syncing in her second and third episodes. I admire Mhi’ya for leaning into her brand with her “Queen of Flips Edition” doll, but the material used on the doll is entirely different from her own look. To boot, she also doesn’t finish hemming her cape piece. The whole thing is underwhelming, and so the Queen of Flips will have to prove her mettle against Geneva in a battle.

And hoo boy, does she! She flips all over that damn stage to Janet Jackson’s “Control,” pacing herself beautifully despite pulling out stunt after stunt. Geneva does her damndest, but Mhi’ya wins this from the word “go.” She stays, and Miss Karr speeds away. It’s a bummer to lose Geneva, but we’re now heading into a top 10 that feels a lot tighter than I expected. With Geneva having occupied a lot of the early bottom two slots, her departure means we could see some really surprising lip syncers over these next few episodes—and I’m excited to see this cast truly get the chance to perform.

Untucking our final thoughts

Xunami takes a very smart approach to her conflict with Q after the Kansas City queen named her during “Who Should Go Home Tonight and Why?” last week. Xunami is admittedly annoyed Q said her name needlessly, but she’ll nonetheless take the note and see if there’s truth in it. We love a queen who turns an argument into a learning opportunity!

Charo joins the queens for the mini-challenge: a Spanish fly girl flamenco dance-off! It is, wildly enough, sponsored by the tourism board of Spain. Imagine telling yourself while watching Drag Race on Logo, during the alandchuck.travel days, that one day, the tourism board of literal Spain would be a sponsor. Incredible. Xunami wins, and gets a whole-ass trip to Spain as her prize! Unfortunately, as Xunami discussed on Twitter, her DACA status means a trip to Spain isn’t really feasible for her. So instead, she gets $5,000—and she gets to pick another queen to get the Spain trip! So congrats, Hershii LicQuor-Jeté!

Not only did Plasma go as Dorothy for Halloween as a child, but her mother packed her ruby slippers from her costume in her stuff for Drag Race! Adorable. Let all parents pack their kids for Drag Race, I say.

Law Roach’s terrific stint as guest judge this week should immediately restart the “revive Legendary” campaign (a campaign I personally never stopped shouting about!). When Dawn says Law’s praise of her means a lot, he simply responds, “It should.” God, I miss him on my TV every week.

More thoughts on all the looks in the power ranking, but I’ll say that Nick Verreos’ Barbie look likely would’ve been in the top three or four of this crop. Eternally great!

Seriously, why is there so much of that blue fabric available? I never want to see it again!

RuPaul’s Drag Race UK vs. The World Season 2 premiered on Friday! You can watch the premiere now on your regular Drag Race UK streaming service, and make sure to check out our premiere coverage. We’re trying something a little different with this season: I’ll be writing premiere, midseason and finale perspective pieces instead of recaps weekly, though you can be sure I’ll be touching on the season in some upcoming editions of Wig! as well. My Reader’s Digest review of the premiere: very good, and quite promising!

The next episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race will air Friday, Feb. 16, at 8 p.m. EST on MTV in the U.S. and on Crave in Canada. Check back every Monday after new episodes for our recaps and power rankings, and subscribe to our drag newsletter Wig! for exclusive Drag Race content delivered straight to your inbox every Tuesday afternoon.

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